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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

The Mahavishnu Project

Return to the Emerald Beyond

Review by Gary Hill

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, if that's the case The Mahavishnu Orchestra should feel quite flattered. With this two disc set The Mahavishnu Project have released their second album of their interpretations of Mahavishnu Orchestra music. This time they have turned their attention to the legendary Visions of the Emerald Beyond album.

Covering the Mahavishnu Orchestra has to be a dangerous game. In the first place the music is complex and powerful. Perhaps more importantly their fans are rabid in their passion about the music. Besides that, with sounds this complex, the devotees have to be better educated about music. I'd have to say that a lot of them are musicians. All these factors make it a difficult task to do without being slammed. These guys have added to that threat by performing the material live in front of an audience.

Well, I have to say, they did not need any safety net, they pulled it off in style. While they captured the essence and power of Mahavishnu, they didn't just create carbon copies. Don't get me wrong, you'll hear your favorite passages and sounds on this set. The thing is, as difficult a job as that in itself is, these folks went so far as to make the music their own. The end result is a set that should please fans of MO, while adding a new dimension and vitality to the music that they know so well. The only additional thing to say is, “bravo!”

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Eternity's Breath
Gentle tones lead this off. It rises slowly upward from there, taking on Eastern tones as it does. At around the three minute mark this explodes out into some killer space fusion fury. The space elements fade as it moves out into the song proper for a melodic exploration, instruments and vocals taking turns soaring over the top. This is musically powerful and challenging, while still retaining an accessibility and listenability. It drops to violin just before the six minute mark and gives way to a short ambient segment. Then a new fusion melody emerges and they soar out in new directions. The guitar cries out with fiery emotion while the other instruments hold down a furious back beat. Violin takes its turn weaving melody over the backdrop. This eventually moves out into a smoking jam that at times is a bit cacophonous. Overall, this is a beautiful piece of music performed in an inspiring manner.
Lila's Dance
Pretty keyboard tones are the first things heard on this one. As those sounds continue to tell their story other elements gradually emerge. The killer fusion modes on this one are possible even stronger than the opening track. This has a lot of drama and mystery in the mix and the instrumental soloing here is purely magical.
Can't Stand Your Funk
As one might guess, this has some definite funk in its groove. In some ways this reminds me a bit of Frank Zappa's musical endeavors. This killer jam is one of my favorites on the set, but then again, I've always had a soft spot for funk. Who doesn't love that popping bass? The saxophone gets a smoking solo on this one.
Pastoral
More of laid back jam, this one still has plenty of instrumental pyrotechnics. It's just that the overall texture is more sedate in comparison to the composition that preceded it. The violin and the guitar often times steal the show here, but be sure to pay attention to the unusual percussion. It's rather understated, but very cool. It definitely finds plenty of opportunity to take center stage. This is another stellar study in musical performance. It's also another highlight of the album.
Faith
Another that rises slowly upward from sedate territory, this has a very dramatic tone. Swirling lines of melody create the backdrop for the jamming here. Some of the musical modes and tones here are, to coin a popular term, priceless. This is another of my favorites. It is reworked later into a rather folk rock, jam band sort of sound.
Cosmic Strut
Here we get another killer slab of fusion rock. This one is another that shows off a bit of a funk vibe. It's another killer on an album with no slouches. You might also catch a bit of that Frank Zappa texture on this, along with some smoking guitar work. Not to be outdone, the violin also takes some soaring solo time, and so do the keyboards. In fact, the two of them trade solos for quite a while.
If I Could See
Nearly operatic tones, complete with vocals, begin this. While those modes continue for the first minute, they are joined with other instrumentation adding an odd RIO sort of sound to the piece. This grows into a more “normal” arrangement after a time and instruments weave their musical lines in varying combinations. Drums end this, segueing into the next track.
Be Happy
Starting with a drum solo that began in the last number, this quickly accelerates into a smoking jam that features some more inspirational violin work. This is fast paced and very tasty. The guitar also finds plenty of opportunity to Not to be left out, the keys also get their time in the spotlight. It's a great way to end the first disc in style.
Disc 2
Earth Ship
Spacey ambiance begins this. Instruments show up, threating to rise up, but only hinting at it. Vocals come across as the musicians take turns lending gentle lines of melody across this sedate backdrop. This has a very free form jazz texture at times. Eventually it turns into a prog rock ballad approach for a time. After the five minute mark this is reworked into slightly more energized jam and the violin flies over the arrangement for a while, often times feeling like a bird in flight It drops back afterwards to very gentle modes that remind me of early King Crimson quite a bit. It goes back to the prog rock ballad modes at the end. This is a good song, and a nice change of pace, but not one of my favorites.
Pegasus
An almost galloping, echoey texture leads this off in spacey ways. Violin rises up, still echoey after this ends. While this builds up and gets a bit chaotic and cacophonous it never leaves the echo chamber. In many ways this is an experimental noise piece.
Opus 1
Neo-classical textures are the order of the day here. This is an intriguing piece that again moves away from a lot of the other material, but to me it never rises to the level of greatness.
On The Way Home To Earth
Coming in like a cross between early King Crimson and plodding Black Sabbath, this is noisy and dissonant. It's still quite experimental in nature. At just past the four minute mark it moves out into a more traditional jam. That section is one part fiery fusion and one part psychedelic spaciness. It wanders back out into more strange zones to eventually end.
Smile of the Beyond
A gentle, but soaring female vocal starts this. This becomes a more traditional (albeit classically dominated) prog ballad. It never moves beyond this point, but gets quite powerful at times.
Vital Transformation
Now this is more like it! Here we have another smoking slab of killer fusion. The group work through a number of varying modes and textures. It's another where you might think of King Crimson (and Frank Zappa) at times. It's also another that includes some killer instrumental work and performances. This is another highlight of the set, made even more so by its contrast to the music around it.
Sister Andrea
The bouncy, playful tone of this piece is full of those Zappa-like textures. This introduction gives way to an odder sort of more laid back arrangement. Then a soaring progression takes it for a time, but then gives way to a free-form spacey segment. Eventually, though, they launch out into a rather noisy, but simply incredible jam from there. This has plenty of funk and includes a great bass solo. All the other instruments get their chance to shine in this killer arrangement. It's another highlight and a great way to end things on a high point.
 
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